Managing the Lyke Wake Walk

The North York Moors National Park Authority looks after around 1400 miles (2200km) of public rights of way within its boundary. This network of paths enables people to venture out and explore every nook and cranny of the North York Moors but, with close to 25,000 residents in the National Park and visitor days numbering around the 10 million mark every year, the potential wear and tear on the area’s rights of way is considerable.

The damage that can be caused by lots of feet tramping the same route can be illustrated by The Lyke Wake Walk. This 40 mile walk crosses the National Park from Osmotherley in the west to Ravenscar in the east following a line of ancient burial mounds high on the moorland ridges. It was devised by local farmer, mountaineer and journalist Bill Cowley in 1955 and quickly became a test of stamina for walkers to complete the route within 24 hours. In 1955, 191 people completed the walk; by the 1970s, 15,000 people were walking the route each year.

Much of The Lyke Wake Walk crosses deep blanket peat – an extremely fragile environment which can deteriorate very quickly once the surface has been damaged. Most of the route is not on public rights of way but its popularity has resulted in a well worn track being created across the moorland. In the worst instances, the gullies formed by erosion were over 1km long, 1metre deep and 1.5metres wide creating a huge scar on the landscape and unstable conditions.

Thankfully, these erosion scars are fading thanks to improvements to the route such as drainage work, pitching sections of the route surface, infilling with graded stone and a geotextile membrane and consolidating several paths in the same vicinity by covering some with heather brash/turves to allow the vegetation to recover. There are also less people walking the route these days.

Logo: North York Moors National Park

Until fairly recently, funding to repair sections of the walk that were not on public rights of way was hard to come by, but the introduction of Open Access has facilitated large scale repairs on some of the permissive sections of The Lyke Wake Walk where erosion was still an issue. One such section was an eroded valley towards the end of the walk on the remote Fylingdales Moor.

Work on Jugger Howe

damage to path at Jugger Howe
damage to path at Jugger Howe

the final result
the final result
Airlifting the stone before work begins
airlifting the stone before work begins

First published in CJS Focus on Rights of Way and Access in association with The Institute of Public Rights of Way Management on 19 May 2008